India found itself three ranks lower in the latest World Press Freedom Index report released by media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières on Wednesday. The country, which ranked 136 on the list, was placed in the “difficult situation” slot, as were most nations in its immediate neighbourhood such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
“With Hindu nationalists trying to purge all manifestations of anti-national thought from the national debate, self-censorship is growing in the mainstream media. Journalists are increasingly the targets of online smear campaigns by the most radical nationalists, who vilify them and even threaten physical reprisals,” the report said.
The watchdog’s analysis also found that prosecutions were used to “gag journalists overly critical of the government”, including the use of the sedition law that comes with life imprisonment as punishment.
The current “post-truth era of fake news” has endangered press freedom like never before, Reporters Sans Frontières – also known as Reporters Without Borders – said in its report. It also highlighted the “toxic” media-bashing of United States President Donald Trump’s election campaign and Britain’s Brexit referendum.
The 2017 World Press Freedom Index reflects a world in which attacks on the media have become commonplace and strongmen are on the rise, the report said. “We have reached the age of post-truth, propaganda, and suppression of freedoms – especially in democracies. They began falling in the index in preceding years and now, more than ever, nothing seems to be checking that fall.”
The US and Britain have both slipped two places in the index to 43rd and 40th. The report by the Paris-based monitoring group also criticised Hungary (ranked 71st) for falling four places, Tanzania (83rd) for falling two slots, Turkey (155th) for slipping four places and Russia for remaining entrenched in the bottom fifth of the index at 148th.
After six years at the top, Finland (ranked third) was replaced by Norway, while at the other end of the index, Eritrea (179th) surrendered the last place to North Korea for the first time since 2007.